It’s one of the biggest questions in pay television: If consumers can just crib their friends’ HBO Go passwords, why would anyone sign up for HBO Now? Or Showtime’s internet-only service? Or Starz’s?

A new survey from Morgan Stanley indicates that the answer for most people who don’t have cable is, “I wouldn’t.” The company’s annual “Online Video Survey,” now in its sixth year, looked at viewing habits and sought consumer opinions from 2,500 American adults. When asked what maximum price they’d pay for either HBO, Showtime or Starz over the internet, respondents who did not pay for TV overwhelmingly said, “Nothing.” Specifically, 58 percent said they would not pay for HBO, 60 percent said they would not pay for Showtime and 63 percent said they would not pay for Starz. 

Morgan-Stanley-HBO-Netflix-Premium A majority of those without pay TV subscriptions wouldn't pay anything to get access to premium networks like HBO, Showtime or Starz, Morgan Stanley researchers found. Photo: Morgan Stanley Research

It’s unclear whether the respondents gave those answers because they simply don’t care about watching what those channels have to offer, or because they can easily pay nothing and watch them by using a friend or relative’s password. Regardless, only 2 percent of these cord-cutters and cord-nevers would pay $13 to $15 a month for access to HBO programming. HBO Now, the network's standalone web service, is $14.99 a month.

There were a few other surprises in 2016's report. For instance, Netflix usage fell 6.5 percent among Comcast subscribers, and Netflix apparently unseated HBO as the network or streaming service considered to have the best original programming.

But while it might be a drag for HBO to lose that title, perhaps more troubling for the premium channel, and others like it, is the very high percentage of people who don’t think they should have to pay for it.

HBO, Showtime and Starz can perhaps take solace in the fact that 34 percent of the survey’s respondents “don’t know” which premium or streaming service has the best original programming; and that, despite 29 percent saying Netflix had the best, it’s unclear whether those respondents can actually distinguish between Netflix originals and shows that had their first runs on other networks.